‘Shifting baselines’ – ‘inter-generational amnesia’ – ‘eco-social anomie’

From the European Anglers Alliance:

When the EAA is lobbying for more and bigger fish in our waters we often find our efforts stranded on the ground of ignorance about how things were in a not too far past, how bad it is, or not is, today. The core of this problem often is one of perception, which has been termed the ‘shifting baseline syndrome’ (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shifting_baseline).

In this article (from 2010) the scientists John Waldman and Karin E. Limburg, have come up with another term for the broader context of this phenomenon: “eco-social anomie.”

Some excerpts:

“Today, most people in the U.S. and Europe are scarcely aware that eels, wild Atlantic salmon, shad, and alewives — once-vital sources of food and employment — are no longer a part of their ordinary experience. This decline in importance is a manifestation of a loss of standing in society for these fishes, part of a larger phenomenon involving a regrettable interplay between ecology and the social order.”

“Numerous populations of these fishes persist at sharply reduced levels, but all species had suffered local extirpations and many are now classified as threatened or endangered. A particularly worrisome case is the European sea sturgeon, so highly regarded that in the 1300s it was designated as a “royal fish” by England’s King Edward II. Sea sturgeon once comprised almost 20 populations in rivers between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea; they are now restricted to a vanishingly small stock in France’s Gironde River.”

“It took a population crash of Chesapeake Bay striped bass in the 1980s to push Congress into enacting laws that forced the necessary draconian changes to those fisheries. But these fish made a celebrated comeback, showing what can be accomplished with a truly determined effort. The striped bass was fortunate because it had a vocal constituency of commercial and recreational fishermen calling for its revival.”

“Many smaller dam-removal and fish-passage efforts are also underway on both sides of the Atlantic, including efforts to bring Atlantic salmon back to the Thames, the Rhine, and the Seine.”

“To put an end to the steady degradation of many ecosystems — marine and otherwise — we need to rewind important historical connections and dependencies. But tools to do so are also necessary: funding, legislation and, finally, education to rebuild societal awareness and the will to effect needed changes.”

The Natural World Vanishes: How Species Cease To Matter       by John Waldman

Here Comes ‘Global Weirding’     by John Waldman

BASS (through Malcolm Gilbert and Bob Cox) persuaded John Waldman to come over to the UK (trip funded by BASS) to speak at the Conference for Recreational Sea Anglers back in 2000 (organised by the Marine Conservation Society)